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Training camp a chance for Thunderbirds prospects to get feel for WHL

Defenseman Kevin Korchinski is one of two Thunderbirds 2019 first-round draft picks. (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – With 50 seconds left on the clock Wednesday morning, Seattle Thunderbirds prospect Spencer Penner had a chance to put the game away for Team Green with a penalty shot. He skated down the ice, waited out goalie Cody Creasy and snapped the puck. It would have broken a 3-3 tie, but the shot sailed wide of the net and the game would end in a stalemate.

“I wasn’t thinking,” Penner, a 2019 second-round draft pick said, shaking his head. “I should have gone five-hole.”

Penner has signed on with the Thunderbirds but will not be eligible to play full time for them until next season. The 15-year-old is in camp, however, getting his first taste of WHL hockey. While he didn’t convert on his penalty shot, the defenseman from Manitoba has had a strong training camp.

The same is true of fellow 2019 draftees Jordan Gustofson and Kevin Korchinski, taken with the eighth and 10th picks of the Bantam Draft in May. All three players have played well in camp, adding to the building excitement of Seattle’s future.

Korchinski, a defenseman from Saskatoon, is a fluid skater, wastes no motion, and is not afraid to activate into the rush to push the pace. He picked up a couple of assists on Tuesday and would add another on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m feeling good, feeling fast,” Korchinski said. “I’m having fun, getting scoring chances and just playing my game. I just have to play my game.”

His fellow first-round pick, Gustafson, has scored a couple of goals and is enjoying testing himself against the veteran players. Players that are older and bigger.

“I love it,” he said. “I love playing against people that are better than me. It pushes me to be a hockey player so being able to meet the returning players and see how they work before the game, cool down, and take care of their bodies, it’s pretty cool.”

The jump from Bantam to the WHL is a big one but all three players looked like they belonged during Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s scrimmages.

WHL rules don’t allow 15-year-old’s to play full time in the regular season – there’s a five-game limit up until the time their Midget team back home has finished its season. This week is the first step for the 2019 draftees in what they hope will be a successful junior career.

“I came here with an open mind,” Gustafson said. “I want to take everything in. I’m definitely going to take away a lot and practice it during the season.”

Not only will they get to soak up the action on the ice, but they also get to explore the city and region that they will call home during future hockey seasons.

Gustafson says he’s been to Seattle once before, when he was younger, as part of a family vacation to check out a Mariners game, but doesn’t remember much of it. Korchinski hasn’t had a chance to visit the city yet but, likes what he has seen so far.

“It looks wonderful,” he added. “Coming down from the plane, the place is huge. It’s so nice. So much different, Saskatoon is a small city.”

All three players have signed with the Thunderbirds and will be eligible to play in the Everett Preseason Tournament over Labor Day Weekend. It will be their first time playing against another team, in a visiting arena, wearing a Seattle sweater.

“I’ve been looking forward to it all summer,” Korchinski said. “It’s going to be fun to get my first game under my belt.”

Here is a look at some of Day 2’s highlights.

Ross continues hot start

Roddy Ross was back in net Wednesday morning and after not allowing a goal on Tuesday, proved he was human. The Blue Team found a way to score on him twice, first by Michael Horon and then Payton Mount wired a wrist shot past him.

It wasn’t enough to beat Ross however as the game ended in a 2-2 tie. Ross started training camp with just under 70 minutes of shut out hockey and has a .961 save-percentage through two days.

Afternoon drama between Team Green and Team Blue

The most entertaining moment of the day came in the afternoon game between Team Green and Team Blue. With the score tied at three and the clock under 40 seconds, Blue’s Conner Roulette had back-to-back breakaways with a chance to win it.

He was stopped on both chances by camp invitee goalie Matthew Malin. The San Francisco product stopped them both and Green took the puck down the other way where Conner Bruggen-Cate scored with six seconds left to win.

“I guess I can blame the ice there, bad ice,” Roulette said after, with a smile. “If I had one more that would have gone in.”

Crazy moment of the day

To keep the flow of play going during training camp scrimmages, the Thunderbirds have done away with power plays. When a penalty occurs, a penalty shot is awarded to the victimized player.

There is a twist, however.

The offending player has to take a knee at the blue line behind the shooter. When the official blows the whistle, both players are off to the races. The trailing player has a chance to break up the penalty shot if he can catch up.

In one of the afternoon games, Penner was called for a penalty, setting up a penalty shot for Brecon Wood. Perhaps not used to the format, Wood headed down the ice but Penner turned on the jets and caught him before Wood could get a shot off.

The two players were momentarily tangled up, Wood spun around and tripped over Malin in the goal crease.

Payton Mount takes camp scoring lead

The 2017 first-round draft pick has come out firing. At the end of Day 2, Mount leads all the Thunderbirds in goals with four and points with 7. Seattle’s top-six and center spots are a question that will need to be settled during the preseason and Mount is making a strong case for himself.

He played on the wing last season but Wednesday took faceoffs, suggesting that he may get a look at playing center.

Training camp continues Thursday with scrimmages starting at 9 am.